Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it "creative observation." Creative viewing.

William S. Burroughs

People ask how to draw and its never an easy thing to explain. Everyone has in them the ability to draw, but the ability to observe is difficult to explain. I was drawing a chimp's hand today and explaining to the person what I was seeing and how interesting it was. They didn't understand and I could see I lost them the further I got into the subject and the drawing.

Artists often look at things differently. I saw a television program that showed old communities in Newfoundland long abandoned or resettled. Buildings slowly decaying and nature reclaiming the land for itself again. I asked 'what do you see?[ The answer was a quiet setting near the sea. In my mind, I saw possibilities for drawing, focal points, light and shade. I listed colours that I would use as scenes flashed in front of my eyes. I saw something very different. Why do some see the details and others do not? Is it training, the level of interest, ability, habit? Perhaps a combination of all of the above.

This is a quick sketch for an oil painting that I will start soon. Yes, I know I keep putting it off, but I will do it. My sketches end up on the trashiest paper - anything from napkins to envelopes to newspaper. However, I believe getting the idea down is more important than the support at that point.


Rose Welty said...


I've been admiring your work for a while. Your work is an inspiration and your writing is an encouragement - you seem a very normal, nice person. This morning when I read your thoughts on observation, I whole-heartedly agreed. Interestingly, the same thing happens in other places. My husband is a philosopher and he sees things in newspaper articles or editorials that I never see. He has quite a different experience when he reads something than I do reading the same thing. I think it starts with inclination, continues with training, and turns into habit. Anyway, thanks again for your great blog!

Sara said...

My personal take on how I see things: I'm not going to generalize and say all artists see the same way or are sentimental or not. My husband is an artist too and we see things very, very differently.

To me, when I see I break things down into shapes, parts, light, volume instantly and out of habit. Sentimentality and wonder are also instantly added to the mix. My appreciation of seeing something is a mixture of my training, my sentimentality, and my ability to apply my training to objects to help me understand more fully why a thing is more beautiful or poignant than the sum of it's parts.

I believe that untrained people lack the ability to see the marvelous detail it takes to make a thing and so only walk away with a vague impression or feeling. Just like some trained people sometimes lack the sentimentality needed to see wonder in many things.

Good post.

Jeanette said...

Rose, welcome to my blog, I'm pleased that you are enjoying it. There are a number of elements that make individuals see, hear or experience the world in different ways. I'm glad that my ability to see provides me with pleasure and a neverending sense of discovery.

Sara, I agree with you. The untrained person does not see the same level of detail and just scans over it, taking it in as a whole. I always say that I never really see something until I draw it. Then it always amazes me when I do find the details. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Robin Neudorfer said...

I have come to the realization as an artist that I can choose to see what I want. I use to see things in terms of form. I was greatly interested in how things are made and designed. Not that this has gone away, but it has been put on the second shelf as color and light play a huge roll in how I see things today. So once again I think it is a matter of choices.

I look forward to what you have begun to touch on here. The fact that there is a wealth of opportunity in your environment to capture. That which is unique and far too quickly changing.